§ LORD BUCKMASTER had given Notice to call attention to the provisions of the Peace Treaties, and to move to resolve, "That the terms of the Treaties appropriating the private property of enemy-subjects shall not apply to sums, of£5,000 or less where the owner is either born of British parents or had been resident in 82 this country continuously for twenty-five years before 4th August, 1914."
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the Notice that stands in my name upon your Lordships' Paper is intended to direct your attention to certain provisions of the Peace Treaties relating to the property of former enemies in this country. If, after consideration, your Lordships think that those provisions have caused much unmerited and unexpected injustice, I ask for your Lordships' approval of the Motion which follows the Notice, and which I hope you will consider to have been drawn in terms of studied moderation. Before I refer to the actual provisions of the Treaties, it might not be out of place to consider for a moment the position of International Law with regard to the property of enemies within the jurisdiction of any belligerent Power, and I think it might simplify the consideration of that question, and also of the terms of these Treaties, if, throughout, I confined my illustration to this country and to Germany. The terms of the Treaties are almost identical with regard to other former belligerent countries, and if I elucidate the matter by referring to England and to Germany alone, your Lordships will realise that that is merely by way of example and not for the purpose of an exhaustive and exclusive comparison between different former belligerent Powers.
§ For a very long time in the history of this country it has been a well-established principle of International Law that the private property of enemies is exempt from capture or destruction, except in the course of ordinary military operations. It stands in marked distinction from the rights of enemies in property at sea. There, the right of a captor has always been carefully preserved, and it exists to-day practically unmodified, except by the Treaty of Paris and other Regulations which may seem a little out of date. But the rights of private owners with regard to property on land remain entirely unchanged, and, as your Lordships know, they have been so carefully protected that if, in the course of fighting, a soldier enters an occupied town and deliberately deprives the inhabitants of their personal property, he is liable to very serious military punishment. Although during the recent war that rule was undoubtedly broken from time to time by Germany, yet the mere 83 recollection of the objections that were raised by all civilised communities to their conduct was, in itself, a sufficient expression of the value which has been attached to the preservation of such a rule.
§ I realise that the Government may have found themselves, when the war ended, in considerable difficulty with regard to a large number of commercial contracts which the war had rudely torn in two. There were numbers of people over here to whom Germans owed money, and there were people here who owed money to Germans. Personally, I do not think there would have been any objection to provisions which had secured that the property of any debtor to an English creditor over here should be held by the proper authorities in order to provide compensation for the debt. There would be no objection to that, because that, after all, is nothing but the acceleration of the ordinary process of the law. In the ultimate result the property which a man possesses is security for his creditor's claim, and although it can only be touched in due execution after judgment is secured, I conceive that there would be no objection whatever to having the property of German debtors here held as security for the payment of their debts.
§ The Peace Treaties both with Germany and with all the other belligerent Powers proceeded on very different lines. I do not wish to weary your Lordships by giving you, clause by clause, the different provisions of the Treaties. They are couched in language which seems very clumsy, and which is, in some places, rather obscure, but if I state what I regard as their operation I shall be prepared, if the noble Lord who is going to answer this Motion wishes for information as to the Articles or paragraphs from which my view is drawn, to furnish him with that information at once. The provisions of the Treaty are these: This country reserves the right to possess itself of the whole of the property in this country of any person who was a national of a belligerent Power at the time when the Treaty was signed. I wish your Lordships to bear in mind that date. It is not at the time of the war or of the Armistice, but the property of any person who was a German national at the time of the signing of the Peace Treaty. The whole of that property over here is placed in the charge of officials, and the owner is deprived of any right whatever to its use or enjoyment.84
§ The property so acquired is to be dealt with in three ways. In the first place, it is to be used as a means of providing a fund to pay the claims of English creditors against German debtors. That is to say, you take the property of A. over here to pay the debt that is due from B. in Germany. In the next place, and this is perhaps even more indefensible, it is to be used to satisfy the claims of a creditor here against any other debtor in any other belligerent State. That is to say, you can appropriate the property of a Turk or Bulgarian, for example, over here to satisfy a debt due from a German to an Englishman, or you can appropriate German property to satisfy a debt due from a Bulgarian. You can use the whole of the property of these people for the purpose of satisfying, after the property of a particular nationality has been exhausted, the claims of any English creditors against any debtors in any one of the belligerent countries, and when that is done the balance is to be carried to the general reparations account. Those are the general provisions of the Treaty, subject to this, that there is a provision that "Germany undertakes to compensate her nationals in respect of the sale or retention of their property, rights or interests in Allied or Associated States." I will deal with the effect of that later on, but I believe those together summarise the whole of the necessary provisions.
§ Now I want your Lordships to understand that as far as these claims are concerned there is no exemption. There is no exemption of articles of personal ornament, or of articles of trade, or of furniture, or cash at the bank. Wherever the property of a person who happened to be a German national at the date of the Peace may be found in this country, it is all swept away to be dealt with in the manner I have mentioned. The obvious hardship of that must, I think, have been manifest to the Government, because questions having been asked as to the extent to which they intended to exercise their powers, in November, 1920, an answer was given which, so far as I know, exhibits the furthest extent of the relaxation which they are prepared to offer. It amounts to this: that if Germany restores certain British property and provides for the storage charges and other matters, in that case, and in that case only, there will be a release of household furniture and personal effects, and of implements of trade, 85 up to the sum of£500, where the income of the person claiming does not exceed£400.
§ That, I think, is a most valuable answer because it shows that what I have said is perfectly accurate—that every one of those things, but for this modification, would be swept away, and that even although restitution be made, yet, if a person's income exceed£400 (I suppose income of property over here) there is then no exemption either of household furniture or personal effects or implements of trade. Further—and this remains still the only final escape that any person can have—a Committee has been set up, and the Committee, it is provided, may release on grounds of necessity up to£1,000 in all where the German is still resident in this country, or up to£200 in all where, he is not resident here any longer. And income may also be released up to what they describe as a reasonable sum.
§ Those being the provisions that affect at this moment the appropriation of enemy property here, let me ask your Lordships' consideration first to the provisions that are made for compensation. No doubt the idea was that they would throw upon Germany the obligation of paying for the whole of the property that was taken. But your Lordships will notice that there is nothing whatever in the terms of the Treaty as to the basis upon which that compensation is to be fixed. And, when you remember that the mark changes and fluctuates with greater rapidity than a barometer, even if the Germans were anxious to give the fullest possible compensation, it might be extremely difficult to know what was the moment that they had to fix at which they should estimate the conversion of the sterling into marks.
§ But, of course, in such cases as those to which I have referred this right to compensation from the German Government is a mere delusion. In the first place, you cannot expect that any country in the last extreme of poverty, as Germany undoubtedly is to-day, would be prepared, unless it was compelled, to provide a very large sum of money for the purpose of making good to its own people moneys which they had put in a foreign country. I feel certain that, if it were possible for us to contemplate the horrible contingency of a different result of the war, the last thing in the world to which the people over here would have patiently submitted would have been taxation in order to enable 86 a special and favoured class of people to get paid to them in full all the debts that were owing to them in Germany. It is plain that it would be bitterly resented, and for good reasons. Therefore, it seas not to be expected that Germany would look with any favourable eye on such a clause as this, and it is reserved to them absolutely to determine how that compensation is to be fixed.
§ I know that the Government place some reliance upon this clause, and therefore I think it is well to consider it in connection with one or two illustrations. It surely could be no possible excuse for looting a town thaw the Government of the people whose property was looted would be bound, either by the common law or by Statute, to compensate them. You cannot possibly defend an action which is wrong in itself by calling upon somebody else to repair the damage that you have done, and I cannot see any difference whatever between the result of what we have done under this Treaty and the result that would have happened had hostile people entered into territory, swept out all the money at the bank and cleared all the houses of all their possessions.
§ Let us look for a moment upon the different classes of people whom this provision will affect. First of all (and I think it is one of the most important of all the cases) it affects every Englishwoman who has married a German—every Englishwoman who has married a German, even though she did it between the date of the Armistice and the date of the Peace, even though she did it at a time when it might have been thought that the trouble was all ended. Any Englishwoman who at any time has married a German sees the whole of her property swept away, and she has no chance whatever of getting anything except the compassionate allowance provided under those terms to which I have referred. Secondly, the property of every German is appropriated, even though he was resident here, even though he had not been resident in Germany for any number of years, provided he still retained his German nationality. He might have been resident in the United States of America, or in the Argentine, or anywhere else: it makes no difference. If his property is here, it is taken away. And, finally—and this case may represent a less attractive body of people—the property is taken away of all Germans who were in Germany. and who had been 87 induced by the opportunities of our markets over here to bring their capital into this country for the assistance and development of our trade.
§ Let me ask you to consider these cases in relation to one or two facts which are within my own knowledge. In the first place, I want you to think of a German who has been over here for a large number of years. The case was brought under my notice of a German woman who had been a governess in this country for forty-two years. She had been a governess in some of the best known families in this country; your Lordships would know the people well if I mentioned them. Her sister also had been a governess here for much the same period. When the war broke out they were two old women, both still employed, both much valued by their employers. One, most unfortunately, was in the service of a person of official position, and it became impossible that her services should be retained. She would have been about as dangerous as an old tom-cat, but public feeling was so strong that she could not possibly be kept in her service, and with many regrets the service was ended. Equally, the poor lady could never be employed any more. There was nobody here who would take her. Any one who can remember what the temper was at that moment, will remember well that, even if it had been done as an act of charity, in pursuance of what was believed to be a deep religious obligation, the life of the person who had done that act would have been made unbearable, simply because that person was affording shelter and help to an old woman who happened to belong to our enemies. This poor old lady, therefore, had to go out of this country, and she was sent back to Germany.
§ By dint of considerable thrift she bad saved a little sum of money—quite a tiny sum of money—and she had it in the bank, where she had been told it would always be safe. Before she went away she wrote a letter and gave this money to her sister who was over here, and then she died in Germany. The sister tried to get the money, but of course it was impossible; it was all swept away by the Public Trustee. Her employers tried to get the money, but they could not get any further. Nothing could be done till, by an accident, they came to me. I said: "Well, I cannot help thinking that this is capable of being got back; I will try." So I 88 wrote to the Public Trustee, and I beg your Lordships to bear in mind that in the Public Trustee there is an official who is most courteous, most prompt, and most anxious to do everything that is strictly within his power for the purpose of helping people who come to him for advice. I have nothing but words of the highest praise to offer in respect of the Public Trustee. He informed me of this Committee, about which, of course, the old lady did not know, nor did anybody else excepting merely by hearsay. There is nobody who would know about it. I thought something might be done there, so I prepared a statement of the case, which went to the Committee. As soon as it went to the Committee the embargo was relaxed and the old woman got her money.
§ What I want to point out to your Lordships is that if that woman had not influential friends she never would have got the money; that I believe to be certain. If, instead of being a governess with people who were important people, she had been a poor old servant woman somewhere in the North of Scotland, she would have had to write a muddled letter, half in English and half in German, to try to get her money back. And she never could have got it back. The best proof of that is to be found in the fact that these people did not get it back until they came to me, and I was able, owing to my misspent life, to put the matter into legal form and thus to secure for it attention before a legal tribunal. That is the first case, and it is one that I know about myself.
§ Let me take another case. There was a man over here, an Englishman. There was no trace of any German connection of any sort or kind with him or any member of his family, excepting the one about whom I am going to speak. He lived in humble circumstances—by that I do not mean poor circumstances, but quite humble circumstances—but by a thrift which it would be well if people would imitate today, by never living quite up to his income and always saving a little year by year, when he died at the mature age of eighty he left about£8,000. He had only two near relations. One was a nephew over here and the other was a girl who had married a German. He left this money during the war to these two people in equal shares.
§ The war ended. The woman had married a member of the German middle classes, 89 who, at this moment, as everybody who knows Germany will tell your Lordships, are in imminent danger of absolute elimination. They do not know how to live, and it is not surprising, because directly the mark fluctuates prices go up and wages go up, but not the salaries of the middle class, which stay as they were. The one class in Germany that really had demanded, and I say deserved, the respect of the world, the intelligent, hard-thinking, sober-living professorial class, are to-day on the very edge of absolute starvation. This woman had married such a man. He died, and she came over here for the money. Of course, she could not get it. It was absolutely impossible. English money; English woman—but the money was all to be taken away, and she was to have certificates to enable her to go back to Germany and try to get something out of them.
§ Again the matter came to me, and again I went to the Public Trustee. He received me with his usual courtesy. I once more formulated a ease for the Committee, and there was a provision that she was to be permitted to have the income during her life. I thought that was a fair and reasonable proposal, having regard to the terms I have mentioned, and I was very glad that she had it. She took the first instalment and went away. Then she died, leaving two daughters who had nothing whatever to live upon. They instantly asked for something, though not for much. They asked for the apportioned amount of the income up to the date of her death. They were told, of course, that could not possibly be granted to them because the money had been granted to the woman herself, and although she might have had it had she asked for it, yet the fact that she had not asked for it before she died was sufficient to prevent them getting it. With the greatest possible difficulty I got that. And again I say with conviction that had that woman had nobody but herself to plead her cause she never would have got the money. When this ultimate arrangement was made, the next thing that was suggested was that Letters of Administration should be taken out in regard to this woman's estate in Germany in order that they might pay the administrator. The result of that would be that they were bound to pay a German who would not pay those who were half-English—her daughters over here. That is the second case.90
§ The third case is the one which in many ways I think is the worst of all. It is the case of a woman who was a Dane. I hope your Lordships will not think that that was another excuse for being a German. She was not a German; she was a Dane. Many years ago site married an Englishman and lived with him in this country. He became weak and ill, and then died, leaving her with just a few hundred pounds and one daughter. It so happened that these people were extraordinarily gifted with musical talent and by one means and another, by efforts that it is impossible for us here even dimly to realise, by teaching, singing and so forth, these people kept themselves and, by living quietly, saved just upon£4,000. I think it was a miracle.
§ The woman being old, the money was put into the name of her daughter in order that she might look after things for them. Between the date of the Armistice and the date of the Peace Treaty the daughter married a Hungarian. She had promised to marry him before; the war had not altered her affection; and she committed the unforgivable sin of marrying the man whom sin had promised to marry years before. People will condemn her, I do not doubt, but I tell your Lordships quite frankly that I like to think that an Englishwoman kept her faith notwithstanding all that happened during the war. If she had had the good hick to love a man who turned out in the end to be a Czecho-Slovakian, instead of a Hungarian, there would have been no trouble. But she had not that luck, and this money has been swept away, and we cannot get it back. Those are three cases within my own knowledge.
§ Now let me tell your Lordships of one or two which are not within my own knowledge, but of which I have heard from people who have charge of these affairs and who know what they are speaking about. The first is the case of an old German who came over here when he was a child. Nobody knows anything about his parents. He became a workman here, and he was 72 years of age when this beneficent Treaty began to operate. He knew less about Germany than any member of your Lordships' House. He did not know a word of the language, nor did he know anything of the German people. He had just lived here all his life as a workman. Having the thrift 91 of his race he had saved a little money. He had been told: "The place to put your money is the English Savings Bank. Whatever else goes wrong that is always right, and there can be no question of your being able to get your money back from there when you want it." So he put his money in the Savings Bank and, at the mature age of seventy-two, found it was all taken away from him. He knew nothing about naturalisation or anything of the sort. He had just lived here as an Englishman. Fortunately, his case got into proper hands and the matter was remedied.
§ I was informed of other cases which struck me as being very serious indeed. We all know that a number of men were interned here during the war, on grounds of public policy. I say nothing about that, for this reason. Although many of these people were undoubtedly as innocent of any ill intention towards this country as any one could be, yet the mere fact that they were Germans at a moment of such tremendous public excitement as that to which we were then necessarily subject, would render it undesirable in the public interest that they should be at large and therefore many of these men were interned although it was known that there was nothing whatever against them except the fact of their birth. I am not complaining about it. After they had been interned some time, the question arose whether they would be repatriated or stop here.
§ I do not know which of the two alternatives offered the colder comfort for these unhappy people, but many of them elected to go back home. They had a little money and they wanted to know what to do with it. The officers who had to look after the repatriation were kind men. On the whole, I believe that the English public official who has charge of anybody in misfortune is a great deal more kind-hearted than the crowd who scream in the street. And these people, when they were asked what they should do with their money, said: "It is all right; we put it in the Savings Bank; it will never be touched there." So it was put in the Savings Bank, but it is there no more. It is now in charge of the Public Trustee. How are these men to get it back? How are they to get any relief under this? They are not resident here. Their only chance is to get it by application, under the rule that I mentioned, which enables you to get the income up to a 92 reasonable amount, or up to£200 if you are no longer resident in the place. How these people, who may be scattered goodness only knows where, are going to put into operation the necessary procedure for the purpose of getting that relief I find it difficult to understand. There, then, are the circumstances as I understand them.
§ My Motion asks for no more than this—that you should relax this to the extent of£5,000, and relax it in two cases, and in two cases only. The one is for the advantage of English-born women, and the other for Germans who had been here for twenty-five years before the outbreak of war. Can anybody doubt that common justice—I was going to say common humanity—requires that such a relief as this should be granted? I am bound to say that I look on this interference with rights that we have acknowledged and respected for centuries with grave misgiving. Every one of your Lordships must realise that there never was a moment in the world's history when the rights of private property were being more sharply and violently challenged than they are to-day. I am a strong believer in them. I recognise, and I know, that property produces power, and that power may, in wrong hands, be the subject of abuse, but I am certain that the right to win and the right to hold property is the cement, and the only cement, that binds together all the great complicated structure of national life. I am certain that you can apply no discriminative solvent, to that cement. You cannot abandon the principle in one instance and assert it in another.
§ You are embarking on a very dangerous course if you relax your adherence to the fundamental right of a man to hold and to keep what is his own. If anybody wants to see what the end will be if the attack is pursued to dispossession, you have merely to turn your eyes to the East. You will see that there, however much the Government desired to injure and destroy classes of people whom they thought were parasitic upon the whole community, the result has been that they have brought down buttress and column and wall and foundation, and what was once a stately building is now nothing but a heap of formless rubble and of bloodstained dust. I regard this attempt with grave uneasiness, and I regret greatly that our country should have put its hands to it. I cannot help feeling that we have done something that dishonours 93 us. I feel that our descendants will look back upon the way in which we exercised our power, when it stood at its zenith, with mingled feelings of regret and shame; for whatever mistakes we have made in the past we have at least always tried to be faithful to this ideal—that we would secure justice and freedom and complete security of life and property to the humblest and the meanest creature that ever sought refuge on our shores. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, "That the terms of the Peace Treaties appropriating the private property of enemy-subjects shall not apply to sums of£5,000 or less where the owner is either born of British parents or had been resident in this country continuously for twenty-five years before 4th August, 1914."—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I should like to add one or two words to what the noble and learned Lord has said, and, especially, to refer to the conditions in Austria. As the noble and learned Lord has pointed out, the same conditions prevail there as in the case of other enemy nationals, but what he says about the poverty of Germany is of course emphasised in the case of Austria. The suggested compensation, which is really a virtual confiscation, becomes the more unreal when we know that at the rate of exchange in Austria a sovereign at the present time is worth anything between 30,000 and 35,000 kronen. Before I come to one or two illustrations from Austria, I would say a few words on the principle, but in addition, I should like to state this. I know that many of these cases have been brought to the notice of the noble and learned Lord, and a very large number of them have also been brought to my notice. I wish to emphasise everything he has said regarding the courtesy of the Public Trustee, but courtesy, of course, is no good where the law tells the other way. For the same reason, although certain cases can be sent before the Committee presided over by Lord Justice Younger—there could not be a fairer Committee to deal with matters of this kind—yet there are a large number of very hard cases indeed with which the Public Trustee cannot deal and with which Lord Justice Younger's Committee has no jurisdiction to deal at the present time.
Two principles are involved, and not only involved but are passed by, under the 94 provisions of the Peace Treaties. We know that it was one of the objects of the Allies that international Law should be maintained in a rigorous fashion. I wish the Lord Chancellor were here. No one regrets his absence more than I do, but it is open to me to quote a passage from a speech of his in answer to a Question of mine based on very much the same principles as those involved in the Resolution of the noble and learned Lord. That speech will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT, Volume 40, column 564. I give the special reference because, unfortunately, the Lord Chancellor is not present. The noble and learned Viscount said that the principle of the immunity of private property in land was organic and fundamental in the science of International Law. No lawyer would question that statement. Then he went on to say that owing to the evil conduct of the Germans the principle of the immunity of private property was disregarded by them during the course of the war.
I do not want to go into that question now, but surely the answer given by the noble and learned Lord is complete. If, whenever a law is infringed by an evildoer, you are, on that account, to alter the whole course and essentials of your legal system you must inevitably get into conditions of perfect chaos. Assuming it is true that there were infractions of this organic and fundamental International Law during the course of the recent war, I think the moral to be drawn from it is that we should be more insistent in the terms of the Treaties that the organic and fundamental principles of that law should be recognised and maintained.
There is one other matter as regards the legal side of this question. For at least 800 years in our Common Law the private property of ex-enemy nationals in this country has not been liable to confiscation. It has been a principle of the utmost advantage, not only as regards the justice of this country, but also as regards the security of property invested in this country. The principle has always been that during the continuance of the war the property of those who afterwards become ex-enemy nationals has been safeguarded and protected during its progress, and as soon as the war is over their rights have risen again and they have had the full benefit of their property interests. That is a great principle both in justice and in policy.
95 I agree with Lord Buckmaster as regards the essential necessity for the security of private property if modern civilisation is to be observed, particularly in its industrial form; and it is a Mow to the whole policy of security of property in this country that you should attack it at its weakest point; that is, the property of our ex-enemy nationals. What does that mean? It can only be defended on public policy; and some one will come and say that on grounds of public policy all private property in this country ought to be subjected to some principle of confiscation. The whole principle is fundamentally wrong and ought never to have been assented to by any English Government in the formation of the Peace Treaties. May I remind your Lordships that a Treaty could not be made by Royal prerogative interfering with the Common Law rights of ex-enemy nationals in this country, and that was one of the reasons why it was necessary that an Act of Parliament should be passed? By no prerogative, can you interfere with the Common Law of this country and at the time I opposed, as far as I could, this feature in the Act brought in to confirm the Treaty with ex-enemy countries. It was a mistake and a misfortune that a principle of this kind, the confiscation of private property, should have been introduced at a time when we were filled with prejudice. It is contrary to the whole principle of our Common Law for a period of 800 years.
Let me give two quotations in order to emphasise the injustice to which Lord Buck-master has referred, and after giving these illustrations I hope to detain your Lordships only a very short time. Your Lordships may not realise that if an honest man in this country desires to pay his debt to an ex-enemy national he is prohibited from doing so by the terms of the Treaty. There are several honest men in this country who desire to pay debts properly contracted. Under the principle of the Common Law they are liable at the present time; but they are not allowed to pay them. There is this prohibition which prevents a man being honest even if he desires to pay his debt to an ex-enemy national. Take the case of Austria. What chance is there of any ex-enemy national ever getting his debts paid him under these conditions? Not a single penny can he get until Austria has performed all her liabilities under the terms of the Peace Treaty. It is perfectly well known that Austria can never perform 96 all her liabilities under the Treaty. That fact has been recognised recently by the financial assistance which has been given to Austria. Therefore, as regards many poor people, you take away their only means of livelihood and postpone to the Greek Kalends any possible payment.
One word as regards the question of property apart from debts. Every penny of property of ex-enemy nationals is confiscated; every penny is taken over and liquidated by the Government, or the official body which represents the Government for carrying out duties of this kind. Not one penny is left. But there is the obligation, if it is fulfilled, upon the Austrian Government to make repayment, or compensation, in respect of confiscated property. What possible chance is there of the Austrian Government doing anything of the kind. I say that interference with property, apart from confiscation, brings misery and want, and other evils, to poor men. In the case of an Austrian in this country, deprived of his property, a man who has only£50 or£100—I know of many such cases—what is the good to him of a right against the bankrupt Government of Austria? What can he do? What steps can he take? It is possible he may know sonic person in authority there, but that is a mere accident. I am not exaggerating when I say that in the hundreds of cases which have come to me for advice the result has been the absolute confiscation of the property of these poor people; and they have no remedy at all.
The fact is that there is an essential vice in the terms of the Peace Treaties. Wars are waged between States and not between individuals. That has been recognised as an organic and fundamental principle of International Law, and as an organic and fundamental principle of the Common Law of this country. I admit that owing to the terrible conditions of modern warfare, non-combatants are more involved than they were in the old days. The moral of that, however, is not to attack noncombatants, not to make them responsible, unjustly, for the evils to which they are not parties, but most sincerely and clearly to maintain the organic principle which absolved them from interference in their property and rights as soon as the war was ended; and not only when the war was ended, but that during the duration of the war private property should be immune from capture and could only be taken provided proper compensation was paid. Here 97 we are introducing a far harsher measure of injustice after the war is terminated than is allowed during the period when the war is in full blast. You are really interfering, as I say, not only with every principle of security but with the principles of justice by involving individuals in a matter of this character.
Let me, before I conclude, say that, though the noble Lord did not quote it, I think he had an illustration in his mind when he spoke of the exceptions which were introduced in an amended Agreement between the British and German Governments, of which ratifications were exchanged in London on October 6, 1921. I quote that only for the reason that while I think the palliations there contained do not go nearly far enough, the principle of palliation has been accepted and recognised. I recollect the noble Viscount replying to me from the Woolsack and saying that he wished there might be palliations, if I could point out any way in which they could be made good. As a matter of fact, since that time palliations have been introduced by Treaty between this country and Germany. The noble Lord's Motion, which I hope will be accepted, indicates that the palliations have not gone far enough, and do not include a very large number of hard cases, such as that of a man who has been in this country twenty-five years, or a woman of British birth, whose property he protects to the extent of£5,000. Surely that is a low limit to put when such a principle is involved as that which we are now considering.
If I may, I will give two instances which have come to my mind. Hundreds of instances have been brought before me, but I will quote only these two. One is that of an English lady married to an Austrian, who died fifteen years before the war. During the war she was not in any way molested. She enjoyed her property—she had a certain small property, sufficient to live upon—and no one interfered with her. When the Peace Treaties came into operation, her property was confiscated. That is to say, she was told one day by her bankers that her cheques could not be honoured any further. It was not a large property, but a small one. The unfortunate effect of it was that she died practically insane. Her daughter, who was horn in England, married an official in this country; I will not mention his name, but an official of considerable 98 importance. The mother's money came to this daughter, but she could not obtain one penny of it. It had all been confiscated. I have approached the Public Trustee and the office—I forget its name—which deals with these Austrian matters. Not one penny has she been able to get. Surely that is a monstrous case of injustice, and a case in which you go dead in the teeth of all that we mean by security of private property.
The other case is that of a musician of world-wide fame, who naturally lost all that he had abroad during the war, but in order, as he thought, to have thorough security, had invested a small sum of money in this country, and at the end of the war looked forward to this as a means of living. I met him in Austria, and his condition was very terrible. He is more than half starving. The condition of the middle classes in Berlin and Germany is not nearly so bad as the condition of those classes in Vienna and Austria. When I was in Vienna nearly a year ago—I was there for some time because I was interested in the relief works which are going on—I found that the condition of the middle classes was absolutely pitiable. They were starving or on the verge of starvation, and the end war generally suicide in the Danube.
There is one other illustration I should like to give, not that of the elderly ladies to whom my noble friend has referred, but that of poor young girls. There was a society in this country, whether legal or not I do not know, that did all it could to protect these young girls. What is more pitiable than a young girl going out of this country and being placed in a foreign land where probably she does not know the language, having always lived at home, without a penny in her pocket? Of course it means destruction to her whole life and morality unless there is some means of relieving her. I am glad to say that in this country a committee was formed for the special purpose of helping young girls under those conditions, and great relief was given in a number of cases. I think it is lamentable that our Government, by acceding to these terms of the Treaty, should have placed young girls and other poor foreigners in a position of that kind. On a former occasion I was able to put my views on this point before your Lordships at even greater length, but speaking to-day specially on behalf of Austria, I hope your 99 Lordships will accept the Resolution so forcibly moved by my noble and learned friend.
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
My Lords. I feel that your Lordships will have been very much impressed by the speech of Lord Buckmaster in moving this Resolution. He brought forward some very hard cases which must have convinced your Lordships. I think, that the matter deserves rather fuller consideration than it has yet received. How far the acceptance of his Resolution will lead us, I am not prepared, without having heard the answer from the Government bench, to anticipate. If it means a revision of the Treaties signed at Paris, I should somewhat hesitate to vote for a Resolution which led to such a. development as that. If, however, it means that it is only to be an instruction to our own Government not to press certain Articles of the Treaties which, in our judgment, act injuriously and harshly and require no assent from our former enemies before revision, then I should certainly warmly welcome and accept the Resolution.
Certain cases of great hardship have been laid before your Lordships by the two noble Lords who have spoken, but I have a case which I should like to mention, which I think goes a good deal further than the eases already quoted. This is a case for which I can vouch, which came to my personal knowledge. I think the best way that I can put it before your Lordships is by reading a letter from the lady whose case it is. This is a letter written to Sir Robert Younger's Committee, of which we have already heard, and as to which I will only say that when I put this case before the Committee I was received with great consideration, and Sir Robert Younger went out of his way to put the most favourable construction upon the application which I assisted the lady in making.
This is her letter:I am applying to you for the release of my property, and beg that you will give my applica-cation favourable consideration."—I will not give the names but I will show the letter to any noble Lord who would care to see it.My late mother was J. G. D., daughter of G. D., of B—,in the County of Berwickshire. She was born in Edinburgh in the year 1832. My late mother married in 1867, at Presburg, Austria, Colnel A.100 Colonel A. was the colonel of the 14th Regiment of the Light Infantry of the Austrian Army. That was as long ago as 1867.I am the only child of the marriage and I was born at Salzburg, Austria, on March 21, 1868. My father died on November 3, 1868"—a few months after the birth of this lady.My parents were also married at the British Embassy at Vienna.This lady was born, as I have said, only a few months before her father's death. She was, of course, so young that she never knew her father, and she returned to England within a very few years of her father's death. I think she was only about ten years old when she returned to this country with her mother, and she never revisited Austria.
The letter continues:—After that I lived with my mother in England from that time until now. My mother died on December 1, 1914. By her will, which a as made several years before the war and is in the possession of the administrator, all her property was left absolutely to myself. All my late mother's property was derived from Scotch relatives and none of her moneys were ever invested in Austrian or alien country securities. I enclose details. I am dependent upon the income from my late mother's estate for my maintenance, and the only moneys I have which belonged to my late mother are represented by [small sums in war bonds and an amount produced by the sale of a house at T. in England] which my mother had given me about the year 1889. As to my intention as regards the disposition of my property after my death, I made a will in 1915 in favour of a first cousin, an Englishwoman to whom I leave all my property.This lady is technically an Austrian, because her father and mother were Austrian; and she was born as long ago as 1868.
It may be said that she was careless not to have naturalised herself, or that her mother was careless not to have taken that step, during the long years of her residence here, but of course nobody at that time, or during those years, ever thought of the war through which we have passed, and I think these ladies can hardly be blamed for not having anticipated events which none of our most prominent statesmen ever anticipated. At all events, when the war came about everything which she had was taken possession of, and she was left practically penniless. She could 101 not get any income from these war bonds, and she cannot legally now, I presume. She is legally absolutely penniless at the present moment, and it is only through the kind action of the Committee, which has been already referred to, that she has been allowed a temporary pittance.
I have another case which is perhaps not quite so strong as that, because it relates to a Turk. Lord Buckmaster seemed to doubt whether there were any Turks in this country in possession of any property. This is rather a remarkable case, too. Here was a lady—I would rather not say her age, because ladies do not like their ages mentioned, but I will say that she was of full age—and she married just before the war a man whom she and her friends thought was an Englishman. During the war he turned out, on investigation, to be an alien enemy, a Turk. He was not. an enemy at all. He was a friend to this country and had lived in this country, or in France, the greater part of his life; but, technically, he was a Turk. This lady's fortune is in the hands of trustees, but those trustees are, I believe, inhibited from dealing with that money or from allowing her to enjoy the income of it. The whole of that money is practically confiscated. I am not sure how far the Turkish Treaty, which has never been ratified, is valid upon a matter of this sort, but as I understand the present position the lady is not able, and the trustees are not able at present, to deal with the capital of the fund, even though it is possible they may be dealing with the interest upon it.
I am sure there are a number of other cases of a similar kind. Only by quoting such cases—and I apologise for quoting private cases of this nature—are the hard facts of the situation brought home to us, and I feel convinced that, subject to any-thing which may fall from the Government bench, the proper course for your Lordships to take, if I nay humbly say so, is to adopt the Resolution proposed by Lord Buckmaster and put such pressure as we can upon His Majesty's Government to relax the very hard and stringent conditions which these Articles of the Treaty lay down. It may be said that these Treaties were accepted unanimously in this country by both, Houses of Parliament, without a. word of complaint, alien that all our complaints about these matters should have been raised at that time. I venture 102 to say that these interpretations of the Treaties have come as a great surprise, and that if it had ever been contemplated at the time when Parliament was asked to ratify the Treaties that these mischiefs would have arisen, there would have been a very loud outcry against the acceptance of these Articles.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I hope none of your Lordships will be led into a mistaken impression. If the Motion is passed to-day nothing is going to be asked of the taxpayer or the British Exchequer. All that will happen is that in a limited class of case, the hardship of which was admitted in terms by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer on November 15, 1920, in answer to a Question in the House of Commons, the true debtor in this country will have to pay direct the debt of the true creditor, irrespective of the nationality of that creditor. Having cleared that difficulty out of the way, let me say that, without wishing to pile up the agony in any way, I know and have heard of hard cases like those produced by the nobly and learned Lord, and by the noble Viscount who has just sat down.
What offends my sense of justice, even more than my sense of individual hardship, is what appears to have been the recklessness of those who concluded this arrangement. I do not impute anything more, because the eloquent description given by the noble and learned Lord really related to effects and not to intentions. It has always been protested by those who speak on behalf of the Government in this ease that there is no confiscation. No doubt it was intended to set up what may be called a clearing house arrangement, to set off the debts at one end against the debts at another, and it is open to you to say that that is not confiscation. But in these humble cases, in these cases of persons with small resources, in these cases of persons to whom it is a practical impossibility to cross the sea and make demands against a Government which naturally does not look upon their position with any excess of favour, in effect it is virtual confiscation.
I said I was acquainted with concrete cases, and I did not wish to pile up the agony. It is shocking that what I am going to describe can happen. A German woman who had been in service in this 103 country and had spent all her life, I believe, in this country, saved money, and—as was a prudent thing for her to do—sank it all in purchasing an annuity from one of the best British life assurance companies. Is there anything that stands higher than the credit of a British life assurance company, except perhaps institutions like banks in this country? And is it not repugnant to the mind of any one of your Lordships that anything should intervene to make the ready and prompt payment of that annuity difficult or impossible, or in doubt for a single moment? Quite apart from the hardship to the creditor who was entitled to the annuity, that seems to me a mischief of the very worst kind.
When I rose I said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already admitted the principle of hardship in these cases, and that, as a matter of grace, alleviations and palliations ought to be conceded. The noble and learned Lord's Motion to-day only says that those alleviations, palliations, and concessions have not gone far enough to give practical effect to removal of the hardships that we all wish to see disappear. And, as in this case there will be nothing asked from the British taxpayer, I hope that your Lordships will pass the Motion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the bench below me is not very strongly held at this moment, and I imagine that the noble Lord who will answer for the Government desires to reserve his reply for the close of the discussion, but I confess I think it would have been very convenient if, before now, someone speaking for His Majesty's Government had been able to give us, at any rate in outline, what the case for the defence is. I have listened to the speeches which have already been delivered, and, to me at least, it seems that the case made for the Motion of the noble and learned Lord opposite is an extremely strong one, and, if he goes to a Division, unless some altogether new facts and arguments are sprung upon us, I shall certainly follow him into the Lobby.
I am not going to attempt to dogmatise upon such questions as the extent of the immunity due to private property, nor am I going to discuss the general merits of these Treaties. Some very suggestive remarks have been made on that subject, but I do not understand that the noble and learned Lord desires to challenge the 104 Treaties altogether. He is content, for the purposes of his case to-night, to take the text of the Treaties as his point of departure and to confine himself within that limit. As I read Article 297 (I think it is) of the Treaty certain principles are laid down for the guidance of the Allied Powers in dealing with this question of private property. Those are accepted as principles generally indicating the policy which the signatories had in view, but I do not see anything in the text of the Article, or in the text of the document annexed to it, which deprives those who have the interpretation of the Treaty from exercising a certain amount of reasonable discrimination in enforcing it. And, in fact, we have been told to-night that a discretion of that kind has been assumed, and that up to a certain point hard cases of the nature of those which the noble and learned Lord has in his mind have been, though very inadequately, provided for.
I am content, then, to take Article 297 as my point of departure, and I gather that under that Article the authorities are authorised to retain the property of these ex-enemy subjects, to liquidate their estates, and to make use of the proceeds for certain purposes. That, as we have been told to-night, means that the unfortunate owners can, under this Article, be stripped bare of everything they have in the world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I agree with what has been said by the noble and learned Lord as to the absolutely illusory nature of the argument that the losses of these sufferers can be made good by Germany. I do not believe that the prospect of obtaining satisfaction from that source is worth a shilling in the pound of their claims. What the noble and learned Lord's Resolution in effect does is to require that in adjudicating upon these matters the Court shall exercise a reasonable amount of discrimination, and that in favour particularly of two classes of the persons affected. These are the British subjects who, by marriage or by some other incident, have become technically enemy subjects. It seems to me a monstrous hardship that ladies in the position of those whose pathetic story was so well told by the two noble Lords opposite should be subjected to what I can only call an act of spoliation by the Government.
105 Nor is the grievance less real or deep in the case of those alien subjects who by a long period of residence here have become virtual citizens of this country. We have given them our hospitality; it may be assumed that they have met their liabilities as citizens, that they have paid their taxes, and done their duty as members of society. And, here again, it seems to me an intolerable hardship that we should turn upon them in the end and, because in the eyes of the law they are technically enemy subjects, strip them bare of their possessions. I sincerely hope that the noble and learned Lord will get the support to which the strength of his ease, I think, entitles him, and that His Majesty's Government will, at any rate, not tell us that this is a case in which they are able to do nothing to mitigate what seems to me to be a very real and serious grievance.
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD GORELL)
My Lords, I thought that probably it would have been for the convenience of your Lordships' House had I reserved my remarks to the conclusion of this discussion, but, in view of what fell from the noble Marquess at the beginning of his speech, it would probably be best if, without waiting for any other noble Lord who wishes to speak, I attempted to outline the case for the defence, as he put it.
In the first place, I think it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that on the day on which this Motion was last on the Paper and we had a discussion upon the degree to which Law Lords should take part in our debates, the noble Marquess the Leader of the House said that this House would be a dismal place if we were deprived of hearing the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord who moved this Motion, and that he personally always listened to him with great delight. I confess that my own personal delight in listening to the noble and learned Lord this afternoon was slightly less than it has been on other occasions, not only because of the reflection that it would fall to me to answer him, but also because I could not help feeling that to some degree, at any rate, the eloquence with which he has adorned this subject is a little misplaced.
I cannot help feeling that the strength of his words and the general enthusiasm that he has shown in championing these cases will come as a surprise to a great 106 many people. He said, for example, that the hard-working professorial class of Germany had won the respect of the world. In view of a statement of that kind, one may be permitted to recall some of the manifestoes of that professorial class. It happened to fall to me, at the very beginning of the war, to conduct an investigation as to how far that professorial class had been responsible for inculcating the doctrines which have since won the reprobation of the entire world.
I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord was not referring to any person, but he referred generally to the professorial class.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The people I had in mind were those with whom I am most acquainted—those engaged in the teaching of biology and physiology—and I do not think you will find that the name of a single one of those men was at the foot of any manifesto or that he had anything to do with approving any of the horrors of the war.
I did not mean that the noble and learned Lord had any particular person in his mind; but when we examine this question I think that we are entitled to look at it in a broad way. There has been held up to us this afternoon a great deal of the hard case as applied to German subjects, and remarks have been made by various noble Lords which brought to my mind those celebrated words of the late Sir W. S. Gilbert about the man who loved "all centuries but this, and each country but his own." I do not wish to be misunderstood for a moment in saying that. I do not, for a single moment, suggest that that description applies to the noble and learned Lord who moved the Motion or to any other member of your Lordships' House. But I would go so far as this: some of the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon will give a great deal more satisfaction to, and be much more deeply appreciated by, people to whom that class of description does apply than they will to and by the great majority of the people of this country.
The reason is obvious, I think. It is not that as a people we are vindictive. So far from that being the case, our lack 107 of vindictiveness has often been commented upon, and sometimes even ridiculed, by other nations. But there is a general feeling throughout this country that, after all, the responsibility for the war was German, and that some of the burdens consequent upon the war must necessarily fall upon the German people. I think we have to beware of allowing a passion for justice to pass beyond justice into sentiment. Every noble Lord will agree, I think that we ought not to close our bowels of compassion to hardship to any individuals who have suffered, whether they be ex-enemy nationals or not. At the same time, we must not close our minds to the fact that there are great number of our own people who have suffered irreparably in their fortunes through the war.
We have heard this afternoon a statement of many eases of hardships to ex-enemy nationals. I should think there would be within the knowledge of most noble Lords cases of great hardship to British subjects arising out of the war. That is the other side of the shield which must be fairly presented, and when the noble and learned Lord speaks of this country's devotion to property, I think we must not forget that the first concern of His Majesty's Government must be the property of its own subjects. When that has been satisfied, we can consider responsibility towards the property of others. I am perfectly certain that the mass of the people of this country will try to consider this question from both points of view; not solely, as it has been presented this afternoon, from the ex-enemy point of view.
The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, made free use of the word "confiscation." I venture to suggest that is really rather a travesty of the actual position.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Does the noble Lord say that in the case of Austrian ex-enemy subjects it is anything but virtual confiscation?
The fact that ex-enemy countries have accepted the obligation of paying compensation has been 108 described as a delusion, and the noble and learned Lord who made the Motion stated that it was obvious that the German Government would not compensate their nationals in this country. That, I think, is a rather grave statement to make. After all, the responsibility for ex-enemy nationals is greater upon the German Government than upon ourselves, and I think it becomes necessary to examine the foundation of the edifice of hardship which his eloquence has reared for us and, even at the risk of wearying your Lordships, I think it is necessary to go back to the statements of the German Peace Delegates in their observations upon the Peace Terms. They have already been quoted in your Lordships' House, but they are necessary for a proper understanding of the position.The German Peace Delegation is conscious of the fact that under the pressure of the burden arising from the Peace Treaty on the whole future of German economic life, German property in foreign countries cannot be maintained to its previous extent. On the contrary, Germany, in order to meet her pecuniary obligations, will have to sacrifice this property abroad in wide measure. She is prepared to do so.When we have these cases of hardship brought before us, I maintain that the first responsibility rests upon the Government of the ex-enemy nationals and that the first protest should be addressed to that Government.
The criticisms which have been directed to the policy of the Government in this respect have been partly directed against the Treaty and partly against the administration of the Treaty, and it seems to me that they have been in some respects like firing both barrels of a gun at once, and when that is done it not infrequently results that one searches round for victims in vain. I do not think that it is necessary for me to go into the question of defending the Treaty, because in the main criticism has passed beyond that to criticism of the actual cases, and to the administration of the Articles of the Treaty. The main principle that must be laid down is, first of all, that it is for this Government to recognise its responsibilities to its own subjects. I should like to make it quite clear that there is no question of revenge against individuals.
The noble and learned Lord raised again the question of the organic basis of International Law, to which attention was 109 directed in your 'Lordships' House in the middle of 1920, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, said that he would not go into the question of the necessity of individuals having suffered in this war. I think that it is necessary for us to have that in our minds. It has clearly been utterly impossible to view the late war in quite the same way as wars have been viewed in Europe at any rate, in the past. It has been a war in which it has been absolutely essential, owing to the action of the enemy, that individuals should suffer. There are innumerable cases of war having been waged by the Germans against individual Englishmen. A ease was put into my hand only a few moments ago in which an Englishman's properly was taken by the German Government, and that is not by any means an infrequent case.
We can view this matter now not from the point of view of the narrow question of revenge. That is not at all in keeping with the British character. Whatever may have been the feeling immediately after the conclusion of the war, now at any rate the British characteristics have reasserted themselves, and there is not that same feeling of bitterness. It is not a question of waging war against individuals, but it is a pure question of repayment. The German Government made itself responsible to its own nationals. It is hardly necessary for me to refer to the well-known adage about hard cases. That will be too well-known to the noble and learned Lord who moved the Motion for anything more than the briefest reference. He will understand that no rule which is in itself sound should rightly be upset by bringing under review a large number of hard cases.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Do I understand that it is asserted that this rule of the confiscation of enemy property is in itself sound?
I was not begging that question, but I maintain that one of the first principles we have to go upon is the German admission of responsibility for its own nationals. The question of hardship was first raised in your Lordships' House in the debate of June 9, 1920. It is perfectly true that the German Government has been slow in compensating its own nationals. It is also true that actually under the Treaty there is no form of exemption from what the noble and learned Lord, 110 Lord Parmoor, described as confiscation. Therefore there has been, on the part of the Government, recognition that in some cases there might be considerable hardship, and power has been retained to release any particular property, rights, or interests from the charge, and that power has been exercised to release immediately small capital sums and income up to a reasonable amount where the owner is in necessitous circumstances. Provision giving power to release property was inserted in the Order in Council carrying out the provisions of the Treaty. I think that in every British mind there will be every desire possible to mitigate hardships to individuals.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, spoke of alleviations and palliations. They are clearly recognised, and it was in order that they might be recognised that the Committee, to which reference has more than once been made, was set up, presided over by Lord Justice Younger. The general working of that Committee has already been described to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Somerleyton on November 30, 1920. That Committee has been set up directly to deal with eases of individual hardship.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I may explain that I have had to deal with these cases, and I have been to this Committee. It is a most sympathetic Committee, but it has no power to make any allowance for the circumstances of hardship in individual cases. The Government have bound it by a hard and fast rule.
I think I may be able to explain to the noble and learned Viscount the principles upon which it is working at the moment.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
There ought to be no mistake. The rule is that the Committee has power to release, on grounds of necessity, up to the total of£1,000 where 111 a person is resident here, or they may release up to£200 where the person is not resident here, and on income up to what they call a reasonable sum.
I do not know what the words "income up to a reasonable sum" mean if they do not mean discretion. The noble and learned Lord has put down two particular classes for exemption up to the sum of£5,000. I would like to deal first with those who have been resident here for 25 years before 1914. It is, I think, generally admitted that as far as possible, without taking away from the sums intended to benefit our own nationals, every reasonable palliation must be introduced. One thing has been overlooked in these statements as to residence for 25 years, and that is the fact that the German law lays it down that if a German national has resided out of Germany for ten years he becomes Stateless, unless he takes special steps to preserve his German nationality, and it has been the practice of the Board of Trade to release the whole of the property of any German national who has resided here and has become in that way Stateless. That would cover the large majority of persons referred to under one part of the Motion of the noble and learned Lord. I think it is perhaps a little unreasonable to suggest that special treatment should be meted out to those ex-enemy nationals who have taken pains to preserve their nationality.
Further, an exemption has been made in the case of German nationals who have been permitted to continue resident in this country, and no steps are at present being taken to credit their property through or to take possession of it where it is not already in the hands of the Public Trustee as custodian. The noble and learned Lord also referred to the British wives of German subjects. I was rather struck by one observation which fell from him when he was speaking of those English girls who had married Germans immediately after the war and before the signing of the Treaty. His expression was "thinking the trouble was over." It seems to me a rather strange expression to apply to such a war as we have been through, and I suggest that any one who married a German immediately after the war at least did so with some knowledge of the wanton aggression which the German Government has inflicted upon the world. It is obvious that the primary responsibility for 112 maintenance in the case of any one who has married a German rests with the German relation.
But the Committee have recognised that there are hard cases, and Lord Buckmaster has read out the extent to which the Committee have been in the habit of recommending releases. I do not follow what he meant by saving that they had no discretion. They are able to release property up to an amount of£1,000 in the case of those who are resident here, up to£200 in the case of ex-enemy nationals formerly resident in this country but now resident abroad, and, in respect of income, to what they consider a reasonable extent. Further, in the case of a young widow or divorcee of ex-enemy nationals who takes the trouble to be re-naturalised the whole of her property is released at once. In spite of the observations which have been made I submit that this is not an unreasonable provision. The noble and learned Lord actually used the phrase "dishonourable to this country." It is at any rate the action which has been generally adopted by the Allied and Associated countries after the very fullest consideration of how it was possible to meet the claims of their own nationals who had been ruined by the war.
A number of hard cases have been specifically referred to. Two points struck me very forcibly in those which were outlined by the noble and learned Lord. The first is that when a case got into proper hands, as the noble Lord mentioned himself, it had been remedied, and it shows that at any rate some modifications have been introduced into the general provisions. I can assure him that if he, or any other noble Lord, will send particulars of such cases to me personally I will undertake to see that they are placed in 'proper bands afterwards, or if he will send the particulars direct to Lord Justice Younger's Committee they will receive the most serious consideration. In the case of Germans particulars more strictly should go to the Public Trustee, an official whom Lord Buckmaster has praised. In the case of other ex-enemy nationals they should go to the Administrator of Ex-Enemy Property at Cornwall House.
The noble and learned Lord says that the Committee is little known. It has been mentioned in debate in your Lordships' House and I hope that one result of this discussion will be that its functions will 113 be more widely known. Since its inception it has considered nearly 900 cases, and on its recommendation allowances of capital and income have been made to a large number of people. Lord Ullswater mentioned the case of Turkish subjects. They stand at the moment in a particularly difficult situation, but in the ease of all those who may be described as Turkish subjects by accident, such as Armenians and others, it has been the practice of the Board of Trade to release the whole of their property at once.
It is difficult to relax in any way the practice that has prevailed, because it is not yet certain that the property available will be sufficient to meet the claims that will be made upon it. The figures are interesting, and they show that in spite of the moving speeches to which we have listened the balance of the debt lies against this country. Of the pre-war debts, in round figures, the net amount clue from Germany was£36,000,000, of which£20,000,000 has been paid, leaving a balance due of£16,000,000. In the case of British property in Germany which has been sold or damaged it is possible only to make an estimate. The claims fall into two categories. There is the amount actually realised by the liquidation effected by Germany during the war. This is estimated at£24,000,000, of which£14,000,000 has been paid from the proceeds of German property here, leaving£10,000,000 due. Then there are the large claims for damage done to British property in Germany amounting to£30,000,000; and these are now being dealt with by the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal. No payment has been made in respect of these. As far as Austria is concerned the funds available are quite insufficient to meet the claims upon it.
If we consider the case in its broad aspect, that the first responsibility of the Government is towards its own people and that the sums available do not allow us to meet all these claims, we shall get this question out of that region of purely hard cases into which the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord has thrown it. The whole question is one of balance. If we remit some of the sums available it means that we deprive our own nationals of those sums for the payment of their debts. Looking back over the history of the last seven years and without wishing to raise questions of bitterness or revive any of the war feeling, I suggest that it is quite unreasonable that we should favour, 114 at our own expense, the nationals of a country whose wanton aggression has desolated the entire world.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that many noble Lords present, including myself, have listened to this answer with great regret. Personally, I consider it one of the most unconvincing replies that I have ever heard from the Ministerial bench. The noble Lord, speaking for the Government, puts up a threefold defence. First of all, he makes the statement that this procedure does not amount to confiscation; and in the second place, that we are compelled to act in accordance with the Treaty; while his third line of defence is that those whose circumstances we have been discussing this afternoon have ample security in the Younger Committee. I think that, without unduly wearying your Lordships, I can show that there is no foundation for any one of these lines of defence.
Surely it requires some hardihood to contend that there is no confiscation in this matter. Take the case of a German. If he recovers his property he is subject to a deduction of 50 per cent. by his Government, and receives payment at the rate of forty marks to the pound, so that my recollection is that he receives twenty marks for every pound owed to him. In the case of an Austrian, or Bulgarian, or Turk, the position is worse still. His Government cannot pay him anything like twenty marks in the pound; all they can do is to give him a bond upon which they cannot even pay interest. I think it is time that this contention that there is no confiscation should be dropped.
I come to the second point, as to whether we are breaking the Treaty or not. It has not been pointed out by anybody in the course of the debate that what the noble and learned Lord is asking for is something which has been granted already in numerous cases. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government spoke as if we were the only Power that had ever been engaged in the war. These are the facts. In the case of America, the property of everybody who was born in America has been released. It is true that America is not a party to the Treaty. Take the case of South Africa; all residents in South Africa of ex-enemy nationality have also bad their property released. In Italy property has been released to the value of 115 50,000 lire. In Japan the sum of 10,000 yen has been released. In all these cases it is intended to make a further concession. Even in France far less difficulty has been created than here. There is a curious result in the case of one country which is worth mentioning. In Bulgaria the French and Italian Governments have left the two nationalities to decide these questions between them without any Government interference, and the result is that French and Italian trade is advancing and making way in Bulgaria, while our own trade is completely at a standstill in consequence of the difficulties which we put in the way.
I pass from the question of the Treaty to the noble Lord's third line of defence, the Younger Committee. Let me say, in parenthesis, that I happen to be very well acquainted with Lord Justice Younger. I had a great deal to do with him during the war, and there is no man for whose ability, or for whose humanity, I have greater respect. I do not believe I am committing an indiscretion, and I do not care if I am committing an indiscretion, when I say that I know, as a fact, that Lord Justice Younger and his Committee are entirely in favour of the principle of this Motion. The terms of reference of this Committee have already been alluded to in the course of the debate, but what has not been pointed out, and what I desire to lay special emphasis upon, is that Lord Justice Younger's Committee is very much more tied down than is commonly supposed.
It appears admirable on paper, but in effect its activity is very restricted, because in this country, unlike all the other parties to the Treaty, we make an extraordinary distinction between what is property and what is described as debts. If an ex-enemy subject has real property in this country, if, for instance, he has nothing more than a grand piano, that is regarded as his property; but if he has money in the bank, that is regarded as a debt, and the result is that the Younger Committee is unable to release any money—if I am not mistaken—which is in a bank or a savings bank. Hence arise the extremely hard cases among the poorer people mentioned in the course of the debate. There are, I believe, any number of cases involving men and women who have managed with great difficulty to save, perhaps,£20 and have put it in a savings bank here. The Younger Committee is unable to let them have a single penny of it.
116 I regret to say that as the result of the Government's answer I can only confirm the impression which I formed long ago, that whereas we fought the war in a chivalrous spirit and fought it like gentlemen, that is an expression which could hardly be applied with exactitude or correctness to some of our subsequent proceedings. It will be within the recollection of the House that no sooner was the war at an end than a measure was introduced in another place in which it was actually enacted that a large number of perfectly innocent people, who had done no harm whatever, were to be turned out of this country. Nothing in my political experience has ever given me so much satisfaction as the recollection of the fact that at my instigation, assisted by much more influential persons than myself, this House reversed the decision of the House of Commons, and that when the matter was fought out the victory remained with us.
I do not think it has been generally realised how great was the effect of our action at that time in enhancing the position which this House held in the public estimation. It did more than any action which we have taken for many years, and that impression was not confined to this country alone but was felt throughout Europe. It was a revelation to many people, not only in this country but elsewhere, that this Assembly, situated as it is, had a greater sense of justice and fairness than an elected Chamber like the House of Commons.
I venture with all deference to submit that we have here another opportunity of showing what we can do. This Motion is a much more important matter than appears on the surface. Our action will be felt not only in this House; it will be scrutinised not only in this country, but throughout Europe, and it will probably have a considerable effect upon international legislation. It is for that purpose that I earnestly impress upon His Majesty's Government my desire that they should be more conciliatory with regard to this matter. I would urge any noble Lords who have not yet made up their minds to be influenced by the arguments which have been addressed to them, and against which nothing has been brought by any noble Lord except the Government's spokesman. I beg them to record their vote for the Motion of my noble friend. 117 Personally, if there is nobody else to support it, I am prepared to go into the Lobby with the noble and learned Lord, and I hope that, whatever happens, he is going to insist upon a Division.
§ EARL BUXTON
My Lords, when I came down to the House I had no intention of taking part in this debate, but I listened with such profound disappointment to the speech of the spokesman of His Majesty's Government that I venture to say a few words upon this Motion. It appears to me that the noble Lord who represents the Government completely misunderstood the object and desires of the House in regard to this matter. He raised the question of the responsibility for the war, and seemed to think that, this responsibility being upon the Germans, my noble and learned friend's Motion should not be accepted. If there was any one who was not responsible for the war, it is the particular persons mentioned in the Motion of Lord Buckmaster.
The second point was that this might be held to be an abrogation of the Treaty itself. My noble friend and the noble Marquess opposite particularly disclaimed any intention of going behind the Treaty, and they both said that if this was in any sense an abrogation of the Treaty they would not vote for it. The noble Marquess read out the Article, and so did my noble friend, and it is clear that although the British Government and other Governments have the power to carry out these actions, there is no obligation upon them to do so, and the Article allows a great deal of elasticity in dealing with this Platter. The noble Lord also read a case or two in which the German Government had done the same thing as has been done in reference to these hard cases. Surely, one of the things which throughout the war we always declared was that if the Germans did a bad thing we were not going to copy them, and surely in this case it is for us to set a good example and not to follow the example of the Germans.
Then a further argument on which the noble Lord relied very greatly was that primarily the responsibility for these obligations was on the German and Austrian Governments. Undoubtedly the obligation lies on them to deal with these cases, but as the noble Marquess pointed out, looking at it from the practical point of view, it is certain that none of these cases is likely to receive any satisfaction from 118 the German Government. It must be remembered that these persons for whom we are asking consideration are practically British, although technically they are foreigners, and surely these are the last persons whom the German Government are likely to treat leniently and charitably.
All we ask is that this Committee should be allowed greater elasticity in dealing with these cases, and although the representative of the Government said that so far as he was concerned, if cases were brought to him he would look into them—we take that for granted—what I think those who support this Motion desire is to place on record that in the opinion of this House these cases should be given the best possible consideration. The mere fact of being able to take a particular case here and there is not sufficient for the purpose which we have in view, and I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will press his Motion, although it is not our desire to put the Government in any difficulty. We do not want to score off the Government in this matter, but we do wish to place it on record that in the opinion of this House these persons ought to be treated with greater leniency and elasticity, and that the Committee ought to have greater powers in dealing with this matter.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, there are a few observations which I wish to make in answer to the discussion. In the first place, let me assure Viscount Ullswater that he need be under no apprehension that if the Motion is passed, and is acted upon by the Government, it would require any revision of the Peace Treaty, because the Treaty reserves to each belligerent Power the right to insist upon these provisions to any extent they please, and just as they relaxed them in 1920 so they can relax them to-morrow if they think fit.
Now let me say a word or two about the speech of Lord Gorell. Of course, one of the observations he made shows the mistake one so often falls into when one speaks of things and persons with special reference to what one has in one's own mind, and the people who hears one interpret what one says with reference to what is in their own minds. I shall always regard with reverence the man who, whatever his nationality, pursues learning for the sake of learning and not for the sake of gain, as so many of these men did, but so also I consider nothing more odious than 119 to use the position of teacher for the purpose of the demoralisation of the minds of the young.
What is it that the noble Lord says is the answer to this application? It is that this country owes some sort of duty to a certain class of persons here. But surely that does not consist in taking away the property of unoffending persons in order to compensate those creditors. It seems to me the most dangerous thing in the world. We are constantly having that brought before us when sitting judicially. Someone who has been injured tries to recover in respect of his injury against somebody who is not responsible for the wrong, and if the person who is called upon to pay is very rich, as for instance a railway company, while the person injured is poor, there is always the temptation to say, "Let him pay." But we sit here to prevent that, because it is not just, and people can only be compensated according to law. Not only is there no law by which persons injured by Germans have a right to be compensated by another class of persons, but it is contrary to established law as known and recognised for centuries. As to the argument that we ought to do this because the Germans improperly dealt with our property over there, the Government could have used the money paid as compensation by the Germans for that purpose.
In the next place, this applies with equal force to Austria, and yet Austria, in many cases, guarded and protected the property of our people situated in Austria during the war, and handed it back to us intact. Our answer is that we will take away from Austrians every farthing they possess, and they are to have no chance to get it back except through this Committee. If a person who owns this property is driven out of this country from whatever cause—it may be because he can no longer stand the unfriendly looks of his neighbours—£200 is all that he can get. There are cases
§ which are known of men who have been honoured citizens of this country, and who have gone back to Germany, but who have put the whole of their money here, trusting and believing that this country was the safest place in which to invest their money; and yet£200 is all that they can get. Are we asking too much if we ask that up to£5,000 this money should be free, and so secured that people who are now being stripped to the bone should have some little covering, even although it may be at the expense of creditors, who in many cases are vastly wealthy, and who in many other cases will unquestionably get a very large percentage of their debt? Finally I must say that when the noble Lord referred—I am quite certain without any intention of unkind reference—to people who love other countries better than their own, let me say it is because I love my country that I am moving this Motion.
I expressly excluded either the noble and learned Lord or any other member of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I do not know who is included, but, of course, I accept the noble Lord's statement. But I repeat that it is because I love my country that I am moving this Motion. I may be right or I may be wrong, but I feel acutely that in what this country has done under the terms of this Treaty it has broken faith with the people who trusted us, who lived here and put their money under our control, and that in the very best interests of British justice, which is the thing that at the bottom of our hearts I believe we all love more than anything else, this Motion ought to be accepted by your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, whether the Motion shall be agreed to?—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 21.121
|Lansdowne, M.||Askwith, L.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Salisbury, M.||Atkinson, L.||Parmoor, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Pentland, L.|
|Buxton, E.||Buckmaster, L. [Teller.]||Raglan, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Cawley, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Denman, L.||Rotherham, L.|
|De Vesci, V.||Emmott, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Haldane, V,||Gainford, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Hemphill, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Islington, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Knollys, V.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Knutsford, V.||Lambourne, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Ullswater, V.||Muir Mackenzie, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Novar, V.||Gorell, L.|
|Peel, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Lawrence, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Annesley, L, (V. Valentia.)||Saltoun, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Bearsted, L.||Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]|
|Malmesbury, E.||Colebrooke, L.||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
|Onslow, E.||Dynevor, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|Stamford, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Motion agreed to accordingly.